One in eight motorists who test positive for drink-driving falls within the limits which, under legislation proposed by Transport Minister Shane Ross, will result in an automatic diving ban in future.
Figures contained in the latest annual report of the Medical Bureau of Road Safety (MBRS) show that 996 drivers out of 8,007 arrested on suspicion of drink-driving in 2016 recorded alcohol levels that currently only result in a fine of €200 plus three penalty points.
Such drivers had blood alcohol concentration levels of between 50 and 80mg alcohol per 100ml blood and their equivalent in urine and breath tests. The range represents the difference between the current legal limit and the previous higher limit which existed up to 2011.
The number arrested in the 50-80mg/100ml range in 2016 is a 20.4% increase over the previous year when 827 motorists had a certified alcohol level that only resulted in an administrative penalty.
The report shows that 5.758 motorists provided specimens in 2016 which were over the legal limit — up from 5,501 in 2015 — an annual increase of 4.6%.
MBRS director Denis Cusack said that younger male drivers emerge as the most frequent type of motorists suspected of drink driving.
Approximately half of all motorists required to provide a specimen in 2016 were under 34 years.
The average alcohol concentration level in blood and urine samples was over twice the legal limit.
However, when specimens with zero traces of alcohol were omitted, the average results were at least three times the legal limit.
The bureau’s findings showed 52.5% of all blood and urine samples were at least twice the legal limit. A total of 456 motorists who gave either blood or urine samples were over four times the legal limit.
The report shows 560 motorists either failed or refused to provide a breath test in 2016.
A breakdown of specimens by county show motorists in Monaghan were most likely to be tested for suspected drink-driving in 2016.
Drivers in Monaghan were tested at a rate of 31.4 per 10,000 population — almost twice the national average of 16.8 motorists per 10,000.
Other counties with above-average testing rates for drink driving were Westmeath, Cavan, Donegal and Longford.
At the other end of the scale, drivers from Roscommon were the least likely to be required to provide a specimen — just 9.1 motorists per 10,000. Dublin motorists had the second lowest rate of tests for drink driving at 12.2 per 10,000. Other counties with low rates included Leitrim, Meath, Carlow, Wicklow, and Kildare.
After alcohol, the two most prevalent intoxicants found in samples taken from motorists were cannabis and benzodiazepines. Almost three-quarters of specimens — 813 out of 1,133 — taken for the presence of seven different classes of drugs, including cocaine and opiates, in 2016 tested positive.
Around a third of samples tested positive for two or more drug classes with a few cases testing positive for five different classes of drugs.
In his annual report, Mr Cusack made no reference to the Garda breath test scandal after it emerged that the force had falsified the number of breath tests it had carried out on motorists over an eight-year period by up to 1.9m. Gardaí were alerted to the issue after the MBRS raised questions about why they were not seeking replacement equipment to carry out tests.
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